Haenicke Institute
for Global Education

1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo, Michigan
49008-5245 USA
Phone (269) 387-5890
(269) 387-0630

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2425 Ellsworth Hall
WMU Mail Stop 5245

Samantha Schaefer--Czech Republic
Samantha Schaefer
Czech Republic
Summer 2009

 I wandered through the cool flagstones of St. Vitus Cathedral, Chopin’s Larghetto in B flat filtering through my headphones, frozen by the afternoon sun burning through the massive circular stained glass window over the entrance of the Cathedral. In Prague, beauty seems taken for granted, apartment buildings adorned by intricate statues, mosaics, frescos, cobblestones, bridges and golden spires; the city of Prague pulses with summer vitality and inspiration.

A recent acolyte to WMU’s Creative Writing Department, I applied for the Prague Summer Program with great enthusiasm and expectation, only to find out that I would be one of the youngest participants there. At the barrier between the  airport and stepping outside, the security guard stopped me and started speaking Czech extremely fast and gesturing at my bags, I responded brokenly in the same language asking if he spoke English, it turns out he was welcoming me home (he thought I was a native) and he offered to help me carry my bags to a cab! Immediately I felt at home.

The first day of class was spectacular. I attended a poetry workshop lead by William Pitt Root for the first two weeks and Cynthia Hogue for the second two weeks. Every morning, I walked over the amazing historical Vltava River on a cobblestoned bridge to sit in a lecture hall, from which I could look out the window and see a castle! For a girl born and raised in the Midwest, this was an experience that I will always cherish. The lectures were just as impressive as Prague’s Roy al Castle in that they were suffused with not only enlightening subject material on Czech Literature and history, but were also from a Czech influenced point of view. Spending time in a city as ancient and as steeped in history as Prague was extremely important to my maturation as a person, as well as a poet.

Being an avid runner, I explored Prague in a whirlwind of sweat and joy. Running up Petrin Hill every morning before class to watch the sun rise over the city was one of the most inspirational rituals I have ever experienced. As a writer, the Prague Summer Program automatically provided me with a community of fellow writers to adventure with for one month in a cool city, who were just as inspired and passionate about writing as I am. These writers came from all over the U.S. I am happy to say that I now have somewhere to stay in almost any major city in the U.S. simply because of the connections I made in Prague. A modeling career also opened up for me; a couple photography students (photography classes are also offered through the program as well as culture and literature courses) needed a model for their portfolios and asked me to model. I received some great pictures to add to my portfolio which have helped me earn extra money on the side once back in the U.S. through modeling jobs.

One of the greatest and most memorable adventures I experienced while in Prague was hiking around a large natural preserve called “Bohemian Paradise,” which is located in northern Czech Republic near the city of Turnov. Lead by the amazing guide Milos, who guided most of our tours, was an excellent resource for intelligent information, as well as an exceedingly kind gentleman, we climbed the magnificent sandstone pillars of a long ago shallow sea. The views provided by these strenuous climbs were breathtaking¬- natural beauty compared to the architectural beauty of metropolis Prague. The Czech Republic seemed to be a place simply bursting at the seams with beauty of all varieties, which in turn influenced a positive view of myself, my poetry and my future. Likewise, learning about the history of the Czech Republic opened my eyes to the struggles of past generations like I had never experienced in the U.S.

 The Soviet regime controlled Prague until 1989, a short 22 years ago. Living in a country that survived such a powerfully corrupt governmental body was truly inspiring. There is a monument in Prague called the “Lennon Wall”. Once a normal wall, it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of inspirational lyrics from Beatles’ songs.  The wall caused great irritation for the then communist regime of Gustav Husak. Young Czechs would write and express their need for change on the wall, which led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the historical Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as "Lennonism". This rebellion against the Soviets was led and inspired completely by students! That was really amazing part to me- that young people, like me, really can create change for the better. The beauty of the city, is not only found in its architecture or natural monuments, but in the fact that writing and academia had a huge impact on how the city operates in present day.

Many of the ideals now held by Czechs have been shaped by that student generation; this idea was extremely beautiful to me and made me take a more introspective look at my own beauty and motives behind writing. Being in to Prague has helped me understand that beauty and where it stems from, not from long legs or shiny hair, but from the fact that I paid for the entire trip by myself (with the help of scholarships) and that I am growing, learning and changing, just as the city itself constantly is, due to my own motivation and gumption.